Lost in a sea of To-Do’s?

Getting Things DoneI’m a firm believer in “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. Apparently, that is equivalent to a declaration that “I believe in the tooth fairy”.  Not that David’s book isn’t real.  It is.  It’s great. I love it!  But it just didn’t seem to be having the impact on my productivity as I hoped, at least not lately.

Then it struck me.  I wasn’t actually following the advise in the book.  I guess knowing something really isn’t the same thing as doing something.  Very sad.

So over the last few weeks, I rolled up my sleeves and decided that I would put David’s exceptional advice into practice.  And it was liberating.  My email inbox was empty.  My actions were all filed where they were supposed to be.  I was on the right track.  It would have probably helped if I had actually gone out and reviewed the book.  I have excellent hindsight.

For all my new-found organization, I was still not feeling more productive.  Something was missing.  Then along came my manager with a piece of the solution I was looking for.  She asked me to write up a monthly status report. Not earth-shattering in and of itself, but here’s the part that hurtled me to new heights of productivity…

I took all of the things that I put in my status report that I was going to get done “next month”… and I put them on my calendar.  I blocked out time to do each item.  What?  I can do that?  Set aside time to actually get the things done that I said I was going to?  Wow. It’s been a productive few weeks since that fateful-epiphany. I can’t say that it will change my life forever… but it sure has made this month a lot more productive than it would have been.

Here are a few tips on using Outlook to manage your To-Do lists (I’m sure similar approaches work for other email/calendar programs):

  • Create helpful categories for your task lists.  Don’t think of the Outlook “task list” as just a place for tasks.  It’s actually a list keeper. Here are a few I use:  @agendas (for things I need to remember to talk to people about); @boss (for things I am discussing with my boss). The “@” at the front of the list name is just so it will sort to the top.
  • Many of my to-do’s come from email.  So I have created a special email folder to hold pending email that I need to do something with.  I call it “@Actions”.
  • To schedule your tasks, simply create an outlook calendar item to block out some time.
  • For things that you don’t want to forget (like “get me your monthly status report on Friday”) create the task as an “all day event” (with no alarm).  That way it will show up at the top of your calendar bar.  A nice way to remember something.
  • I sometimes get email that I don’t really know what to do with at the moment. Basically I want to sit on it for a bit to percolate.  To help me remember to respond to the email, I will put a reminder on my calendar for in a week. You can actually drag the email item to your calendar.  Just be sure to set it as an all-day event with no alarm (so it will show up at the top of your calendar).

Most of these ideas come right out of David Allen’s book.  And he has a lot of other fantastic ideas in there.  It really is a great book. I highly recommend it.

How do you organize your To-Do lists and tasks?

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3 Responses to Lost in a sea of To-Do’s?

  1. Pingback: A Book, a Blog, and a Challenge — Kathi Lipp's Project Blog

  2. Pat says:

    I’ve been using OmniFocus, which is a Mac-based product using the GTD approach. I can create Projects, with as many action items under each project. I can assign dates or not (which makes it a great reminder of the “someday” category). I can create Projects within PROJECTS, so my ministry PROJECT has conferences, website stuff, marketing, etc. projects. Then I can display OmniFocus by project, context or due date view. The due date view becomes my daily marching orders.It’s better than anything I’ve used in a long time.
    In addition, I block off chunks of time on my calendar for specific tasks that need concentrated time, as if they were an appointment. I also use the approach you described for email, but unfortunately, many of those categories become black holes. The action and pending folders are very useful.

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